Mature games for Microsoft’s Kinect motion control peripheral are slowly but surely rearing their heads. Last year titles such as Rise of Nightmares and The Gunstringer received attention for being something other than a dancing or fitness game, and the future brings big-name franchises like Ghost Recon and Fable to the party. Cult developer Grasshopper Manufacture was also said to be developing something for the peripheral, under the mysterious moniker of Codename D. The game was finally released last week, having seemingly snuck under the radar compared to other games in the studio’s stable. Now we all know what the ‘D’ stands for: Diabolical Pitch. Would you cock an eyebrow if I told you it was a game about baseball?
Given GHM’s track record with outlandish scenarios, it’s not really a surprise that the story is quite odd. InDiabolical Pitch you play as McAlister, a former ace baseball pitcher who suddenly finds himself unable to throw a ball. After a car crash, he finds himself at an old theme park called Queen Christine’s Castle. After being given a prosthetic arm to replace his paralyzed one by a man with a cow’s head, he is told that in order to make his dreams come true, he must progress through the theme park and make it to the castle. The tale is told with the use of comic-esque panels, with elements that are occasionally animated, such as the cow-headed man’s head spinning) and are punctuated by terrible voice acting. The game isn’t too kind to the hearing-impaired however, as only snippets of conversation deemed as important are represented as text on-screen. Alone, they make the story disjointed and rather meaningless. These ‘cutscenes’ do, however, complement the gloomy but impressive in-game graphics, and succeeds in giving the game a sinister atmosphere that I didn’t really expect. Like previous Grasshopper games, Diabolical Pitch still retains an undeniably punk feel to it, especially due to the awesome rock soundtrack.
As the game’s title states, gameplay is centered around baseball pitching, but combined with arcade-style gameplay. At its core, it’s very simple: McAlister stands in the middle of the screen and pitches baseballs at the freakish animal-headed dolls that lumber towards him. If he pitches too many balls in too short a period, he can’t use his arm for a while, adding a little bit of challenge. It sounds boring on paper, but it works well and it means players don’t have to worry about things that have proven finicky in other Kinect games, such as walking and other movements. From a technical perspective, Diabolical Pitch controls well, but as expected there are some slight hiccups where throws don’t register. The game spices things up a lot as you progress, with enemies who throw spiked balls that you must catch, or buzzsaws that you must crouch or jump over, to name a few. As a result, while the first couple of areas are a little dull, the last one is packed full of variety and does a great job of keeping you on your toes. There is also the ability to lock on with your non-dominant hand, which is essential for defeating a few enemies. However, there is the tendency for the reticule to hone in on a vague area where it thinks you want to target, which is frustrating when the enemy you want to destroy is in the middle of a large crowd.
There is nothing more satisfying than pulling off a diabolical pitch, which is essentially the game’s version of a special ability. It’s reasonably easy to earn your way towards one as all you need to do is kill a number of dolls in a combo. There are a number of diabolical pitches and while they all have the same end result (killing a lot of enemies), their effects are slightly different. For example, the Thunder pitch bounces off all the enemies on screen and if timed correctly, can kill most of them instantly, making it a very effective pitch to have equipped. Others are more novel, such as the Liner pitch, which upon activation instructs you to pretend you are swinging a baseball bat and knocking foes out. While you only start the game with two, you can purchase more by spending the coins earned from destroying dolls.
Keeping with the theme, the purchasable pitches and other powerups (such as health and arm fatigue) come in the form of baseball cards, which seem to unlock randomly as the game rolls on. It’s here that Grasshopper seems to have added a bit of fake replayability, as upon clearing the game I haven’t unlocked all the cards. Cards can also be quite pricey and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll earn enough money to purchase all the cards you’ve unlocked in one playthrough. The game is quite short as well, consisting of five areas and four stages each. In fact, there are only two real incentives to replay the game. First of all is the multiplayer mode, although this is exactly the same as a single player game. Secondly, the fact that Diabolical Pitch is an arcade game means that there is a strong focus on score, and the game allows you to upload yours to a global leaderboard.
Diabolical Pitch is a game with a rather silly premise, but manages to be good fun. More importantly, it’s a game that displays an overall decent implementation of the Kinect technology, meaning that gameplay is challenging without being cheap. If you’re looking for a mature Kinect game without breaking the budget,Diabolical Pitch is the one to get.